Keeping your furnace and furnace filter clean can cut energy costs and extend the life of the system. It’s also a good idea to have your furnace routinely inspected by a professional.­

iStockphoto/Perry Gerenday

­Lately, it seems that your floors, bookcases, coffee table and most every other surface in your home are covered in dust and dirt faster than you can clean them. No matte­r how frequently you sweep, vacuum and clean, you still seem to have an inordinate amount ­of dust all around. So what's behind the dust-bunny boom? The culprit could be your furnace.

Every furnace could probably use a good wipe-down, but when people refer to cleaning a furnace, they are generally being more specific and talking about cleaning the filter. A dirty filter in a furnace can be responsible for extra dust throughout your house. So by replacing or cleaning your furnace filter, you could be cutting down on your cleaning efforts elsewhere. In addition to keeping the air (and surfaces) in your house clean, routine furnace cleaning can cut your energy costs by 5 to 15 percent [source: Peterson].

­Cleaning­ a furnace filter is pretty simple, especially if you just use disposable filters. It shouldn't require any special tools. The most complex thing you might have to wield is a screwdriver, and, depending on the model, that's probably just to remove the front panel of your furnace to get to your filter. Permanent filters require a little more elbow grease, but many would agree the health of our environment is definitely worth that extra effort.

A regular vacuum or a shop vac and a sink or garden hose are some of the most important tools for cleaning a permanent furnace filter. Beyond that, simple household items like toothbrushes, scrub brushes, toothpicks and cotton swabs are also useful to clean the furnace and its vents.

Continue on to the next page to learn the tools needed to clean your furnace.